30 November 2012

Macaroon vs Macaron: Walnut Cheesecake Macarons

French macarons have certainly been the 'flavour of the month' for considerably longer than a month. It seems like every café, bakery and patisserie has them in a myriad of hues, they have become such a phenomenon you can even get packet mixes for them in the supermarket (not highly recommended). The problem with such a glut of macaron is that not all macaron are created equal, nor is it easy to tell without tasting them all (not such a bad way to do it)!
They may have good 'feet', a smooth shell and an exotic pastel shade with notions of lychee or violets, but this is no guarantee of flavour and the *Wow* factor. I have been seduced by too many 'Meh' (with a shrug of the shouldersmacarons that unless someone says emphatically, 'You HAVE to try the salted caramel macaron from... or you HAVEN'T lived!', I am content to admire their neat rows in pretty rainbow shades of compact perfectness while ordering a coffee éclair or something oozing chocolate.

Macaron are one of those things that strike fear into the hearts of those who have never tried to make them. They shouldn't, because even if you get it completely wrong, it's going to taste good. So they didn't rise (still delicious), so they cracked (yummo), so the batter was too thick and they didn't get feet and the tops are cracked AND they are lumpy blobs of almond meringue (congratulations, you invented a scrumptious new biscuit, enjoy!). Let's face it - unless you are making them as a business, they do not have to look anywhere near perfect to taste good.
Everything I learnt about macaron making came from Bravetart who covers almost every question (and "failure") you come across with her wonderful 'Macaron Mythbusters' and 'Macaron Commandments'. Once you have read these you can either systematically set about mastering the perfect macaron then start to experiment with flavour... or you can accept it may not look quite as you were hoping and start to play.
For these macaron I wanted to recreate my favourite baked cheesecake in a bite sized macaron format. I always have walnuts and spices in my cheesecake base, then lemon, vanilla and cream cheese for the filling. To capture this in a macaron I used half walnut and half almond meal with the seeds of a vanilla pod for the shells, then made a simple filling with lemon curd and cream cheese. I then 'dusted' my baking tray with ground up walnuts and spices before piping the rounds onto this so each shell had a crust of spice on the bottom. They turned out even better than I had hoped, and while it is easier to bake a cheesecake, I will definitely make these again.
Oh, and one sheet of my macarons got beautiful feet, while the second sheet (same batch) on the next shelf down stayed as flat as a coin, in the wise words of my friend Ellie, 'get a cheap oven thermometer, the temperature dial lies'. I didn't get a chance to photograph the failures as they all were eaten within 10 minutes of coming out of the oven, delicious!
Ingredients (macaron shell):
  • 55 grams walnut kernels
  • 200 grams icing sugar
  • 55 grams ground almond meal
  • 90 grams egg whites (approximately 3 egg whites but do use your kitchen scales!)
  • 35 grams caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 5 walnut kernels
  • 1 tablespoon icing sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Ingredients (filling):
  • 40 grams unsalted butter, room temperature (do not microwave to soften!)
  • 60 grams icing sugar
  • 70 grams cream cheese
  • 3 tablespoons lemon curd***
  1. preheat oven to 150˚C
  2. in a food processor combine walnut kernels with 50 grams icing sugar and process until you get a fine meal (if you do not add the icing sugar while you process the nuts you will end up with more of an oily paste than meal)
  3. tip ground nuts into a sieve, sifting into a bowl, putting any larger chunks back in to the processor until it is all finely ground
  4. sift almond meal with the remaining 150 grams of icing sugar into the same bowl as the walnut meal, stirring gently to combine (if your nuts do not pass through a sieve, keep processing until you get the desire grams that do)
  5. in the food processor, combine the remaining 5 walnut kernels with all of the spices and the tablespoon of icing sugar until you get an textured meal - it doesn't need to be overly fine, texture is good - then set aside for the time being 
  6. in a separate large bowl whisk the egg whites with an electric beater (hand held or bench top) until soft foamy peaks form, gradually add the caster sugar and the scraped seeds of your vanilla pod then increase speed and beat until you get a stiff, dry meringue
  7. combine the nuts with the meringue and using quick, even strokes to break down the egg whites and combine the mixture... do not deflate too much **this step is mainly trial and error, proceed with caution, take your time, do a couple strokes - if you pull your spoon out the mix and it still holds a 'peak' then keep combining. The experts say it should resemble lava, it needs to spread a little to get a perfectly smooth top, but not continue to spread out indefinitely making a puddle
  8. line a baking sheet with baking paper then liberally dust the sheet with the walnut spice you made in step 4
  9. put about half of the macaron mixture into a piping back and pipe rounds onto the spice dusted baking sheet, try and make them evenly sized, about the size of an Australian 20 cent coin - leaving enough room between each for them to relax out a little
  10. whack the baking sheet on the table a couple of times to release any large air bubbles which may be lurking waiting to crack your macaron when they get warm
  11. allow to rest for approximately 30 minutes to get a skin on top (the skin is what makes the macaron go 'up' when baking creating those feet that are so desired)
  12. put in oven for approximately 18 minutes, if you try and pick one off the sheet and the top comes off in your hand - it's not done yet, put it back in for 5 more minutes
  13. allow to cool fully before filling
  14. while they are cooling, make the filling by whisking all filling ingredients until smooth, fluffy and well combined, if you are making this on a hot day it may be tempted to split so whisk it quickly and refrigerate until ready to use
  15. set out your macarons in pairs (bottom up), then pipe filling onto only one of the pair to cover about 2/3 of the surface, sandwich together then pop in the fridge
  16. macaron are at their prime between 2 - 6 days in the fridge, so allow them to rest in the fridge for at least 2 days before eating ... OK, eat a couple before letting them rest because you just went to all that trouble to make them and you deserve it!
*** for anyone who loves macaron, meringue and pavlova it's handy to know how to make lemon curd, custard and ice cream with those yolks! Equally handy is finding a recipe which uses the same amount of yolks as the whites you used so that they compliment each other well. This macaron uses approximately 3 egg whites so the quantities for lemon curd with 3 yolks is as follows, see lemon curd for the method:
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 100 grams caster sugar
  • 45 grams butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 75 mls lemon juice

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